When Showtime’s “Shameless” returns for its eighth season, the South Side of Chicago is going to be feeling the changes from the new presidential administration – most specifically in the form of anti-immigration ICE raids that hit businesses like Patsy’s Pies where Fiona (Emmy Rossum), Lip (Jeremy Allen White), and Veronica (Shanola Hampton) are working.
“We live in a world in which everybody is talking about what’s happening,” says executive producer John Wells. “I have very liberal tendencies, but the one thing you can say about what is happening is it’s started a conversation. There is a conversation in America about ‘Who are we? Who do we want to be? How did we get so separate? Why are we not talking to each other?’ And we try and go right at it.”
Though “Shameless” has always told its stories through a satirical, skewed lens, at its heart it has focused on a group of siblings just trying to raise themselves and get by in a world with limited financial means. In a way, that has been a mirror for America as a whole. As Wells put it at PaleyFest’s Fall TV Preview, “The reality is that it is very difficult in America to bring yourself up by your bootstraps. We have an American mythology of meritocracy, but that meritocracy has become more and more difficult. It doesn’t function the way that we’d like to pretend that it functions.”
The Gallaghers have fought and clawed for seven seasons to try to climb up from the bottom of society, and this eighth season promises to continue that pattern. The question of whether you can “unshackle yourself from a lifetime of certain kinds of behavior” Wells says is a central theme to the eighth season. “A lot of Fiona’s story this year – and Lip and Frank’s, too – is about trying to better yourself and how much pressure there is and how difficult it is to actually do that.”
But the Gallagher clan is still struggling to deal with the death of their mother, Monica (Chloe Webb), who they buried in the seventh season finale. Her presence will still loom large over many of them, most notably Frank (William H. Macy), who spent the immediate days after her death smoking his cut of the meth she left her family — a dubious inheritance for all of them. With one rock left, the show finds him in the season eight premiere ready to let go of his period of mourning and move on to make amends with all whom he’s wronged and actually make something of his life.
“I don’t want to frighten you, but Frank shaves,” Macy tells Variety. “He has a credit card; he buys a car; he gets a job. But he’s been so loaded for so long, he’s a little bit crazy when he first comes back. And he is devastated by the loss of Monica. The ghost of Monica will live on and on and on, especially for Frank.”
The ghost of Monica will also live on for Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who shared a bond with his mother given their bi-polar disorder. Out of all of the Gallagher kids, he was not only the one who seemed to understand Monica best but also genuinely care for her. “Ian is struggling. He’s sort of surprised by it, but she was sort of his touchstone, and they were very close at times,” Wells says. “It reverberates for Ian throughout the course of the season. The death of a parent, even an estranged parent, sets off a lot of waves. There’s a lot of things you can’t say that you wish you had said and things you wish had happened that you can’t experience now.”
But don’t expect all of the Gallaghers to be wallowing in grief. Past seasons have seen them engaging in various degrees of destructive behavior to distract from their situation, but now they’ve all grown up enough to learn the best thing is to actually prioritize taking care of themselves. For Fiona, this comes in the form of fixing up the apartment building she bought to rent out units. “It’s a big learning curve for her, but I think she’s really finding her footing as an adult. We’re seeing a more mature Fiona,” Rossum says.
And while Fiona buried her inherited bag of meth in her mother’s casket last season, the rest of the kids give theirs to Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) to sell. Lip “invests [the windfall] in himself – literally and figuratively,” White says. “He gives it to Professor Youens [Alan Rosenberg] to pay him back for putting him in rehab. This year really is about Lip trying to get healthy and get a handle on his disease. School and education and his love life are taking a backseat to his sobriety.”
That ends up pulling him apart from his siblings, who are all attempting to move on with their lives in their own ways. “I think all of the characters at this point have all grown up so much that while in the middle of the show, they really relied on one another,” says White, “now they’re all getting to the point where they have to be a healthy sort of selfish where they take care of themselves first, ahead of the others.”
Having “gotten the hang” of motherhood, Debbie (Emma Kenney) is juggling multiple jobs and welding classes so she can potentially join a union and give her child a more stable life. “This season she’s determined and motivated. She’s a responsible person, and she’s putting all of that into being the best mother possible,” Kenney says.
So they’re all swearing off significant others – for now. Despite wanting to rekindle with Sierra (Ruby Modine), Lip has to have at least six months of sobriety under him before he can think of a relationship, and Ian is still single after running out on Trevor (Elliot Fletcher) to briefly rekindle his relationship with Mickey (Noel Fisher), who fled to Mexico as a fugitive. (“He’s still in Mexico,” Wells says of Mickey’s whereabouts this season.) Fiona also swears off casual hook-ups. “She’s going to have to find a different kind of relationship with a very different person,” Rossum says.
But despite the Gallaghers being distracted with their own issues, Wells notes that the core of the show will always be the family. “When the kids were growing up, there were these moments of the family holding onto each other just for survival so they don’t drown, but then they reach an age where they could take care of themselves and should take responsibility for themselves, so it becomes a question of ‘How much do you separate?'” he says. “Uniquely in these kinds of families, the survival instinct to be together is really strong. They’ve survived together, and being in the foxhole bond is great.”
“Shameless” season 8 premieres on Showtime Nov. 5 at 9 p.m.